Saturday, December 8, 2012

Comments to Secretary Reville at the FY14 hearing

On Thursday afternoon, Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville was at Worcester State for a hearing on the FY14 (that's next year) state budget. I was thrilled to see members of other school committees there!
Secretary Reville was interested not only in how money should be allocated, but in suggestions we had for saving money. My points were as follows:
  • The Board of Education continues to create new charter schools, while the Legislature continues to level fund charter school reimbursement.This year, the gap between what Worcester is promised in funding and is actually receiving is a half a million dollars. A freeze on new charter schools until and unless this is resolved would not only save the state money, it would stop this bill from continuing to come due at the local level. I also mentioned that I had now brought this up with both branches of government involved. We'll see if that makes any difference.
  • Having the state Legislature actually follow the foundation formula, instead of "finding" extra money for particular (and not high-need) districts, would save money. Last year's "extra" $30 per pupil could have funded (just to pick one example) the charter reimbursement.
  • Unfunded mandates remind a problem: the push towards the new PARCC assessment will require a vast expansion of technology, and, while the Commissioner was hopeful that MSBA would pay for it, Executive Director McCarthy was more dubious. The McKinney-Vento required transportation for homeless students is a well-intended requirement, but it costs the Worcester Public Schools $530,000 last year (and was just cut for FY13). 
  • The falling off of Level 4 school funding will be happening soon. The Secretary spoke of "building district capacity to sustain support for underperforming schools," but how has district capacity been "built"? Are they not simply expecting local districts to pick up the expanded costs of these particular schools, thus forcing us to make sacrifices at our other schools, some of which are narrowly avoiding Level 4 status themselves?
  • While the state does require, by both Mass General Law and regulation, a particular level of funding for schools, so long as communities remain at 95% of that or higher, all that happens is the issuing of a polite letter from DESE. Worcester has thus learned, apparently, that there are no real consequences (besides public and political embarrassment) to their failure to comply. Some real backing from the state in real consequences for continued (and intentional) non-compliance would be appreciated.

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